September 22, 2020
Aces ‘outworked’ in Game 1 loss to Sun
Las Vegas looks to even up the series with a Game 2 win on Tuesday
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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 20: Jackie Young #0 of the Las Vegas Aces shoots the ball against the Connecticut Sun during Game 1 of the Semifinals of the WNBA Playoffs on September 20, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Las Vegas Aces hadn’t played in six days. But before queuing up the old rust-versus-rust debate, the main takeaway from Sunday’s Game 1 loss to the Connecticut Sun was painfully obvious. The Aces didn’t hide from it postgame. They got blitzed, quite handily, by the tougher, crisper team.
“We got beat soundly,” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer said postgame. “They played harder than us. You could tell from the early part of the game, we really didn’t have any cohesiveness about our offense for whatever reason. There are no excuses. We just didn’t play well offensively. Give the credit to their defense, they just switched and [were] a little more physical than normal. That’s playoff basketball. We didn’t handle it very well. We didn’t move; we didn’t do anything at all. And then, you know, that frustration starts to kick in when you can’t score and you’re shooting poorly, you get a little frustrated, and it carried over into our defense. And they just put the hammer down and beat us. They did a good job.”
Las Vegas only trailed by four after the first quarter even as they shot just 4-for-17 from the field. Things didn’t improve much in the second. A’ja Wilson scored eight points in that second stanza, but the rest of the Aces shot just 2-for-11.
Sun starting point guard Jasmine Thomas paced the Sun with a career-high 31 points in just 23 minutes in Game 1. Thomas scored eight of her team’s 14 points in the first and then scored 14 of Connecticut’s 22 in the second quarter. Your score at the half: Jasmine Thomas 22, Las Vegas Aces 25. Thomas shot 9-for-12 from the field in the first 20 minutes; the Aces shot 9-for-35 as a team.
Thomas shot 6-for-7 on pull-up two-point jump shots in Game 1. She converted five straight shot attempts in one stretch in the second quarter and shot 8-of-9 from the field in a longer span stretching back to the first. Looking ahead to Game 2, will the Aces adjust their coverages on Thomas? If they do, what new possibilities will Thomas’ big day have unlocked for the Sun to take advantage of offensively?
“Jas is already a proven point guard in this league,” Kayla McBride said postgame. “She’s an All-Star, she’s a defensive player, she does a lot of different things. So we know what she’s capable of. And she did that today…We have to adjust. We know that they’re a dangerous team. And she’s the head of that snake along with Alyssa Thomas. So like I said, we have to adjust and just play harder and understand that we’re playing for something bigger than just one game. We’re trying to win a series against a team that has a lot of experience.”
Although the Sun had outplayed the Aces in the first half, that 11-point margin was far from insurmountable. Connecticut managed to slam the door shut in the third, outsourcing the Aces 28-16. Sun forward Alyssa Thomas added 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the period, and Jasmine Thomas was showing no signs of slowing down, pouring in nine more points, including her third 3-pointer of the game.
Connecticut looked sharp coming out of the break, turning it over just once in that third quarter and eight times overall heading into the fourth. The Aces turned it over six more times in the third and attempted just two free throws via a lone trip to the charity stripe by Wilson. Trailing by 23 at the end of the third, both coaches turned to their benches. Jasmine Thomas and Sun leading scorer DeWanna Bonner sat for the entire fourth as did Wilson, McBride, and Angel McCoughtry for the Aces.
After a slow start and poor response in the third quarter, the No. 1 overall seed was suddenly in a 1-0 hole to start the best-of-five semifinals. The Aces averaged a league-high 23.4 free throw attempts per game in the regular season but had just 11 free throw attempts through three quarters to go with 13 turnovers, 1-for-12 shooting on 3-pointers, and 15-for-39 shooting (38.5 percent) inside the arc.
“I think we needed to get beat,” Wilson said postgame. “I think they outworked us. They worked 10 times harder than we did. And we needed a slap in the face. So now we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and see what we did wrong, see what we can improve on, and go from there.”
“Defensively, we can make some changes,” Laimbeer added. “Jasmine Thomas really hurt us, no question about that, in the first half. Made shots. We weren’t in her space. So defensive wise, we can make some adjustments. Offensive wise, we’ve got to look at what exactly transpired. Some players just didn’t go out there and execute their job. When we got a little down and weren’t making shots, that kind of compounded itself. I thought A’ja did what she had to do to keep us somewhat competitive. But that was about it until the second half when Jackie [Young] found her stroke. We’re gonna need some more of that all game long.”
Young went scoreless in nine minutes in the first half. She was the lone member of the Aces in double figures in the second, scoring 17 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including one 3-pointer, and 6-of-6 shooting at the foul line. While the Aces may have that one positive to point to from a forgettable second half, Sun reserve guard Natisha Hiedeman drilled four 3-pointers en route to 14 points to go with three assists in that same span.
Tuesday’s Game 2 has been moved up to the 7 PM ET time slot. The other Game 1 between Minnesota and Seattle was postponed on Sunday after multiple Storm players returned inconclusive COVID-19 test results. Game 1 of that series has been tentatively scheduled for 9 PM ET on Tuesday. Laimbeer noted postgame on Sunday that WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert had alerted teams to this possibility.
“She sent an email out probably four days ago stating this exact scenario could happen in the playoffs, where you’d have multiple players on a team have inconclusive tests, and that they may have to postpone the game coming up,” Laimbeer said. “And it happened. First game [of the semifinals]. Go figure. But I understand it. It is what it is. We’ve had inconclusive tests in the bubble. Normally, it’s a 48-hour window. So hopefully they have the rapid tests now they’re going to be utilizing that will figure out how quickly that we can figure that out and move forward.”
Some more notes and numbers on the Aces ahead of Tuesday’s Game 2:
Via Aces PR: Bill Laimbeer is 5-1 in his last six playoff series in which his team dropped the first game.
The 13 made field goals by Jasmine Thomas is the most by an Aces opponent all season.
The Aces set season lows on Sunday in both total points scored (62) and field goal percentage (33.8).
McCoughtry set a playoff career-low with just six points (1-of-8 shooting in 16 minutes).
Aces general manager Dan Padover was named the 2020 WNBA Executive of the Year on Sunday. Padover received six of 11 first-place votes from the voting panel that consists of one executive from each team. Phoenix general manager Jim Pitman finished second in the voting.
Dearica Hamby earned Sixth Woman of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. Hamby was a rock for the Aces all season long, finishing the regular season as the team’s third-leading scorer and ranking second on the Aces in total minutes played.